Rajitha, Shanaka bowl Sri Lanka to victory

History would suggest that arriving for a tour of India with nine of the 15 players having no experience of playing in the country isn’t the best of positions to be in. India’s record at home, the conditions, and the crowds can be daunting for any side, especially one filled with new faces. But if at all there is one advantage to having so many fresh players, it is the possibility of catching the opposition unawares.

Sri Lanka did just that in the first Twenty20 International against India in Pune courtesy two pacers, one a debutant and the other with just one T20I to his name.

Kasun Rajitha, the debutant, and Dasun Shanaka made the most of seamer-friendly conditions, picking three wickets each to bowl India out for 101 in 18.5 overs after Sri Lanka opted to bowl. Dinesh Chandimal (35) and Chamara Kapugedera (25) then guided the visiting side to a five-wicket win with two overs to spare.

India’s batsmen had done incredibly well in Australia only last month, but couldn’t replicate that success on Tuesday (February 9), only three of them managing double-digit scores. R Ashwin’s 31 not out was the highest score.

The conditions were helpful, but even in the best of his dreams, Rajitha might not have imagined that he would scalp Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane in his first over in international cricket. But that is exactly what happened, as Rohit first chipped the pacer to mid-off before Rahane, who replaced the rested Virat Kohli at No. 3, got a leading edge to short cover.

The dream start could have been even better but Rajitha missed a chance to dismiss Suresh Raina and Shikhar Dhawan off successive deliveries in his next over before they had opened their accounts. Raina was dropped by Danushka Gunathilaka at third man, while Rajitha himself put down a tough return chance off Dhawan.

But the drops wouldn’t cost Sri Lanka much, and Rajith had his third wicket, with Dhawan’s intended big hit ending up in third man’s hands.

Rajitha’s burst had left India struggling at 40 for 3 after the Power Play, and it was time for another young pacer to take over. Shanaka, all of one T20I old in international cricket, emulated his partner by bagging two wickets in his first over. He first got through Raina’s attempted drive and then induced a nick off Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

One over later, he trapped Hardik Pandya, who got to bat for the first time despite playing three T20Is before this. Between the two overs, Dushmantha Chameera hit Yuvraj Singh on the head with a snorter of a bouncer and followed it up with another short ball that ended back in his hands. Then, Ravindra Jadeja falling leg before to Sachitra Senanayake left India reeling at 72 for 8. That the side got past 100 was due to some smart batting by Ashwin, who used the pace well to remain unbeaten on 31.

Sri Lanka got off to a false start in its chase with Nehra striking twice in his first spell. Niroshan Dickwella didn’t enjoy as good a debut as Rajitha, as he mistimed a pulled the third ball of the innings to mid-on and Gunathilaka followed a while later, chipping to mid-off.

India went on an all-out attack with three slips and Jasprit Bumrah provided able support to Nehra, conceding just six runs from his first three overs.

The Power Play yielded just 28 runs, but the small target meant it was only a matter of one decent partnership. Kapugedera and Chandimal, the stand-in captain, provided that with a stubborn 39 for the third wicket. India kept up the pressure with accurate bowling but the pair never allowed the home side a chance to get on top, finding the boundary at the right times.

Ashwin, who was held back till the 12th over, struck with his third ball to dismiss Kapugedera but the damage was already done. India’s spinners managed to get a couple more wickets, but it was too little too late.